DAYTON, Va. — Dayton, VA is a small town of about 1,360 people two miles south of Harrisonburg, VA. Because of its small size, somewhat insulated culture and the difficulty in meeting any given person in the community who does not have a first- or second-degree relationship with everyone else you might know from the area, it’s incredibly tempting to think of it as our own little local “Mayberry.”
After all, even a website devoted to the town describes a similar community: Daytonva.com reports the town as “served by three family-owned restaurants, two auto-repair establishments, a bank, a convenience store, a print-shop, two museums, … the world’s largest poultry processing plant and … the widely popular Dayton Farmers Market.” However, even this promotional website finds the need to educate those of us new to the area that “in addition to the forces of agriculture … the character of Dayton is shaped by the Old Order Mennonites.”
Sheriff Andy Griffith might have his hands full with this most recent controversy involving Dayton. Now, it’s difficult to imagine his folksy drawl calming down all the citizens to leave the town in peace and harmony again in a mere thirty minutes. The length of the disputes seem too long, the stories unwritten in the newspaper yet freely shared in the grocery store line are too numerous, the clear insults outlined by the area citizens but baffling to an outsider all help to convince me that this story would require Law & Order: Special Anabaptist Unit (SAU) to get anywhere at all.
According to the Daily News Record, the current mayor of Dayton, VA is a gentleman by the name of Lawrence “L.J.” Purcell. Mayor Purcell, age 54, is seeking his third term as Dayton’s mayor. He first served in this capacity from 2004 to 2006, lost an election to a challenger, and then regained the seat in 2008. Before serving as mayor of Dayton, Purcell was a city council member and served on the Dayton Planning Commission. The mayor is also, apparently, a member of the Dayton Ruritan Club.
Running against Mayor Purcell this election is challenger William “Buddy” Farris. Mr. Farris, 55, also has a long history in the community. He is currently and temporarily employed part-time as the town’s grant coordinator. This position was eliminated by the Town Council during eariler business in an effort to meet the demands of the 2011 budget and will expire November 8th. In addition to this position, Mr. Farris served as Dayton’s chief of police from 1996 to 2005, worked for the Virginia State Police, and ran for Rockingham County sheriff in 2003.
The only scheduled debate or forum between the two candidates was scheduled by the Dayton Ruritan Club for Tuesday, October 26th at the facility’s headquarters. The challenger, Mr. Farris, did invite the incumbent to a question-and-answer forum sometime last month but this invitation was not accepted. Reportedly, invitations to the candidates and the uncontested city council members were mailed out on Wednesday, October 20th. Mayor Purcell has confirmed his intention to attend the meeting. Challenger Mr. Farris expressed dismay over the short nature of the notice. Two days later, Mr. Farris indicated that he would be unable to attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict. Thus, the incumbent mayor will likely be the only attendee at his club’s scheduled political “event.”
The Ruritan club members claim busy schedules as their excuse for not sending the invitations earlier. Community members are not so easily convinced by this excuse, particularly when Mayor Purcell’s membership in the organization is taken into account. It hardly matters though now: the appearance of a conflict of interest is the same as a real one and just as damaging to those involved.
Manners, Doug. “Candidate Debate Set: But Challenger Farris Not Happy With Format.” Daily News Record. Oct 21, 2010.
Manners, Doug. “Farris to Miss Dayto Forum: Purcell Only Candidate Likely to Show.” Daily News Record. Oct 23, 2010.